'Ammo! Ammo!' Video featuring US Army veteran shows close combat in Ukraine offensive
The Washington Post September 12, 2022
Ukrainian forces have mobilized fleets of Western-provided armored vehicles to conduct daring offensive assaults using machine guns and antitank weapons, according to video circulating on social media and verified by The Washington Post, striking imagery that provides a rare glimpse of close combat in a war largely defined by long-range artillery.
A set of first-person videos filmed Thursday in southern Ukraine shows a gunner mounted atop an armored Humvee, furiously firing a .50-caliber M2 Browning machine gun and raking nearby buildings with rounds roughly the size of cigars. The vehicle then stops and the gunner, an American volunteer in Ukraine swings his barrel toward muzzle flashes, squeezing the last few rounds from the ammunition belt.
"Ammo! Ammo!" Paul Smith screams in English, struggling with the feed tray cover he must lift before loading another belt.
The footage underscores the scope of U.S. support for Ukraine, consisting of billions of dollars in weapons and equipment that, in many respects, have allowed the outmanned, outgunned Ukrainian military to keep pace with, and in some cases outwit, the heavier-armed Russian military. It also reveals the reality of combat: heavy artillery rounds fired from miles away can batter an enemy, but to win back terrain, ground forces must find and kill adversaries at close range.
The Post used geolocation to verify the battle filmed in Ternovi Pody, a village midway between Mykolaiv and Kherson, the strategic cities at the heart of Ukraine's offensive to retake ground in the south. In the east, advancing Ukrainian forces blitzed into the Donbas region, forcing Russian troops into a retreat.
Hundreds of Americans and Europeans — some with prior military experience, others not — have joined the war on Ukraine's side. At least half a dozen U.S. citizens are believed to have been killed in the fighting while two others, both military veterans, were taken captive and remain in the custody of Russian proxies. A third was reported missing in April and his status remains unknown.
Smith said in an interview with The Post that he is a U.S. Army veteran who lived in Ukraine several times over the last decade, where he provided training and other support to war efforts in the east of the country.
In March, Smith and other volunteers were attached to a unit of the Ukrainian army that was stationed in the Mykolaiv region. He said Ukrainian forces had captured front lines in the vicinity of Ternovi Pody in the days before it was assaulted, but the village remained a "fall back" position for Russian forces.
Ukrainian forces had drawn up plans with him in the lead Humvee for the morning raid, delivering suppressing fire on a building the Ukrainians suspected could hold antiarmor weapons.
In the video, Smith reaches for a tool to pry open the feed tray cover, looking to load a fresh belt of ammunition. Instead of more rounds, though, another soldier inside the Humvee passes up an AT-4, a point-and-shoot antitank rocket.
"He panicked a little bit, thought that I had seen the BTR, so he hands me the rocket," Smith said, referring to a Russian armored personnel carrier. In the video, he fires the weapon at a target so close the launch and the impact are nearly simultaneous.
As small-arms fire zips overhead and punches into the dirt around the Humvee, Smith pleads for fresh rounds as he prepares to fire another AT4 handed to him from inside the vehicle. "Fifty-cal ammo!" he yells. "We're taking shots!"
Weapons like the AT4 antitank launcher are meant for close fights with a maximum effective range of about 300 meters for rounds launched from a single-use tube. The United States has provided thousands of such rounds to Ukraine along with armored Humvees.
As the videos suggest, this operation was particularly daring, with movement across flat, open terrain in vehicles not designed to withstand heavy antiarmor weaponry.
The Humvee parks at one point, becoming a fixed target for would-be attackers. The glass inside the vehicle is shown blasted but intact.
The video also reflects the candid moments in combat that rarely make it into war films. Smith, experienced running a machine gun, struggles at times to work his adrenaline-dampened fine motor skills, working the gun's mechanics through the thin black gloves he's wearing to protect his hands from heat and cuts.
The brass slips through his fingers on one attempt to reload before he gets it right and, seconds later, shoves the lid back onto the feed tray. Though only a few moments, for those inside the vehicle it likely felt like an eternity with Russian forces nearby. Smith presses down on the butterfly trigger for another barrage of gunfire before it jams again, forcing him to start the process over.
This time, he is more deliberate about a technique taught to soldiers, holding the beginning of the belt firmly against the left side of the gun before slamming down the cover.
Smith calling out for machine gun rounds, only to be handed an AT4, was a lighthearted note discussed on social media in an otherwise harrowing exchange.
"I was like, technically that rocket is a round of ammo, so, should have been more specific," he said.
Another video from what appears to be the same operation suggests the soldiers are not much concerned with the possibility Russian forces will punch back with antiarmor weapons. Such munitions would easily destroy Humvees. But as the video shows, a swarm of Ukrainian vehicles streams toward a group of buildings under fire as dismounted troops move toward them. No glimpses of the enemy can be seen.
Analysts with the Institute for the Study of War said that the footage indicated Ternovi Pody had been recaptured by Ukraine.